Let me catch you up to speed. One of the reasons I’ve been jetsetting like a loca this past week is because last week, we (at Restaurante Martin Berasategui) traveled to the Big Apple to give a six course degustation for select guests at Bar Basque.
Sponsored by BasqueTour, the event was a segment of the promotional campaign for Basque products, culture and food. It even warranted the presence of the lehendakari (Basque for President) of Basque country, Patxi Lopez.
Familiar faces above include Joxe Mari Aizega (president of the Basque Culinary Center), Anthony Bourdain, Martín Berasategui, Patxi Lopez and Juan Mari Arzak. Other guests included Spanish food, wine & culture guru Gerry Dawes, invitees from NY Times and Wine Spectator and teenage ‘chef prodigy’ Greg Grossman.
Mission: six courses. 24 diners. 1.5 hours.
It’s not as easy as it sounds. When you combine the spanish language barrier + unfamiliar [cooking] territory +Basque Bar events going on simultaneously (there was a Bar Mitzvah one day, a brunch event another day) = the plot thickens. And don’t forget the component of chance. Possibility, surprise, random behavior. Like chance time in Mario Party. There is always an inner dread of running into a Bowser situation that overshadows the slight hope of gaining +10 coins or better yet, escape from a Bowserious happening.
Our first leg of the journey began before the journey had legs. Two weeks prior, we were already coordinating via e-mail and telephone with Bar Basque the proper ingredients, plates, equipment and workforce as well as with the Basque government concerning hotels, plane tickets and itineraries for the big day. Imagine how much more time it took given the Spanglish communication, the Basque communication, the global time difference and us chefs operating on less than 5 hours of sleep each night. Let’s not chart our levels of efficiency [or better said, inefficiency]. Just know that it was like two toddlers eating spaghetti (pa-sketti). Un lío. A mess. And imagine us three chefs from MB, all type-A, OCD ‘pastry chef’ personalities (our credo is mise en place), attempting to bring order and harmony to chaos and discord. Bonne chance (good luck), you say, bonne chance.
When it appears the odds are not in my favor, I do what I can to change the game a bit. I called in recruits.
Jason y Charles
Since the Basque government only allowed us a team of three from MB, I called up friends in NYC and Boston to come help. Jason, Alex, Najat, Charles, Aaron–you guys were indispensable. My Champions. What humble, generous friends I have that donate their weekends and arrive at 7am to prep 13+ hours / day with Spanish chefs, unfamiliar recipes and elaborations in an unfamiliar environment. Cheers to you all, mi gran equipo. You are the reason we thrived.
Like they say here in Basque countries with their onomatopoeias, it was beem-bam-boom. Prep was all about push push push. Thanks to the crew from Bokado grupo and at Bar Basque–Terry, Christine, Justin, Bryon and others–we were able to organize ourselves well and prepare for service.
And within an hour, we plated 180 dishes with countless components requiring tweezers, spatulas, slotted spoons, etc. It was like a time-lapse clip. Blurry, yet clearly and precisely performed from the exact allocation of every veg and herb on the Ensalada to the consistency of the REAL (not as defined by America) medium-rare, saignant, poco hecho tenderloin seared a la plancha à la Martintxo (his nickname as a boy). Yes, Martín put himself on the line to sear the tenderloin for his 24 VIPs. How many 3 star michelin chefs even cook in their restaurants any more, let alone at events away from home? Martintxo. He also had a hand in plating the Ensalada (below) and dessert. Olala.
The only ‘tense’ moment I recall was after the first dish went out to the dining room. The lightly smoked salmon with hazelnut and nori. Martín returned to the kitchen griping because the guests were not eating (the Basque representatives were speaking. blahblahblah.) and the espuma beneath the salmon was slowly collapsing, losing its optimal buoyance, texture and temperature. You don’t have to be a chef to know that timing is everything, even in the simplest forms. An oxidized, depleted slice of apple is not the same as its crisp, juicy alterego.
Thus I self-assigned myself expo (expediter). That and photographer, chef and personally responsible for the happiness and wellness of my team, my chefs, our guests and Martintxo. Without someone to orchestrate the timing between the kitchen and the dining room, as they say in MB, puta mierda. The event was not going to be just okay or swell, it was going to be magnifique.
Splendid it was. The event concluded with smiles, hugs y besos all around to the guests and more importantly to our team. We had to jet immediately afterwards to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA in Hyde Park, NY) so unfortunately post-service fotos were rush rush but I managed to snap this one before we had to catch the Basque bus to the CIA.
AB y MB
That adventure is another story to be continued…